Ordinary people who responded in extraordinary ways.
That’s how veterans were described and honored during an annual Veterans Day program Wednesday morning at Gaiser Park in Seymour.
Surrounding the city’s war memorial, community members came together with students and staff from Seymour Middle School Sixth Grade Center and city officials to recognize the sacrifices made by all veterans past and present, like Jim Wilde of Seymour, who served in the U.S. Army from 1952 to 1953.
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Wilde is a Korean War veteran and now serves as treasurer of the committee that oversees the war memorial. He and his wife try to attend the program every year because of the respect shown for the United States by all of those who participate, especially the young students, he said.
“They are showing respect to their elders and to their country. The country would go down the drain if it weren’t for the people here today, those who said ‘Daddy, I want to be a Marine’ or ‘I want to be a soldier.’ And that continues with kids today,” Wilde said.
Veterans Day programs and organizations like Boy Scouts and Girls Scouts are small ways to instill love of country and respect for veterans in youth, he said.
He is proud of the 5,000 bricks surrounding the memorial, each of which bears the name of a local veteran. Some of those veterans are still serving their country today. Others have died but will never be forgotten by their loved ones.
On the back of the memorial is a list of wars and military conflicts the United States has been involved in and the number of troops who died. They are more than just numbers to Wilde, who lost 54,256 fellow service men and women in the Korean War.
As a veteran, Wilde said, he appreciates the support of the community, not just on Veterans Day but every day. It’s that appreciation that made the war memorial possible, he said.
“It was all done by donations,” he said. “Every last bit of it.”
Sixth Grade Center Principal Becky Davis welcomed all those gathered and spoke about Veterans Day.
“At 11 a.m. on Nov. 11, 1918, the guns of World War I fell silent,” she said. “One year later, President Woodrow Wilson declared Nov. 11 would be recognized as Armistice Day. Since 1954, our country has honored the date as Veterans Day.”
During Wednesday’s program, the sixth-grade choir, under the direction of Keith Stam, and the band, under the direction of Ellen Mirer, performed several patriotic selections. Student government representatives Donovyn Thomas, Cam Klakamp, Alisha Busby and Jack Handloser took part in a wreath-laying ceremony. Donovyn, who is class president, led the crowd in the Pledge of Allegiance.
Students had the opportunity to shake hands with and talk to some of the veterans after the program. Some students walked around the memorial, looking at names on the bricks.
Cam, who is the class vice president, said being involved with the program made him feel more respectful to veterans.
“It was touching to see them here because they fought for our freedoms,” he said. “Both of my papaws were in the Coast Guard, and one was in the Marines, too, I think.”
Student Spencer James, who sang in the choir, said the program made him feel special and proud to live in the United States.
“It’s not something you get to do every day,” he said of performing for so many veterans together in one place.
Although he doesn’t know any veterans personally, he said he is thankful for all of them.
“I have a lot of appreciation for what they did to keep us safe,” he said. “We should do more to thank them.”
Mayor Craig Luedeman and Don Furlow served as guest speakers for the program. Furlow is manager of the city’s airport and serves as chairman of the war memorial committee. He also is a veteran of the U.S. Marines.
Luedeman said the program is a way to thank veterans on a very special day.
“It is up to us to let them know that we stand beside them with our hands upon our hearts,” he said. “We want them to know and understand that the sacrifices they made will never be in vain.”
He said all students need to go home after school and tell the veterans in their families thanks for their service.
“Without you, our veterans, we would not be able to live in the best country in the world,” he said. “Without you, we could not live in the home of the brave and land of the free.”
Furlow said veterans deserve people’s “highest gratitude, not just on Veterans Day, but every day of our lives.”
“John F. Kennedy said, ‘Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country.’ Our brave men and women in uniform serve our country and embody this great and noble thought with courage and strength,” Furlow said.
He also acknowledged veterans’ family members who lived through difficult times while their loved ones were away from home.
“You’ve carried a heavy load to keep the home fires burning,” he said. “Thank you also for what you have done.”
Veterans come from all walks of life but share the same fundamental qualities, he said.
“They possess courage, pride, determination, selflessness, dedication, duty and integrity. All the qualities needed to serve a cause greater than one’s self,” Furlow said.
Many of them didn’t ask to leave their homes to fight on distant battlefields. Many didn’t even volunteer, he said.
“They didn’t go to war because they loved fighting,” he said. “They were called to be a part of something bigger than themselves. They were ordinary people who responded in extraordinary ways in extreme times.”